Monday, December 3, 2007

Community Slams Mayor, Weiss on Pico/Olympic Plan

"The medium is the message" is a well known saying among Public Relations theorists. In the story we're about to discuss, the medium used to send the message was the traditional media. By choosing that medium, the unintended message that the community received was "up yours."

When Mayor Villaraigosa and Councilman Jack Weiss held a press conference to announce their plan to aid commuter traffic on Pico and Olympic Boulevards they were looking to take a little credit for thinking outside the box to help ease gridlock. What they ended up doing was creating a firestorm in the surrounding communities and uniting landowner, resident, and businessman with a common goal: stop the Pico-Olympic Plan from ever seeing the light of day.

The blowback against the Mayor and his plan began today when a who's-who of community leaders, business owners, homeowner's groups, chambers of commerce and regular old citizens from the Pico Blvd. area flooded a City Council Transportation Hearing and spoke for hours about their concerns with the plan. While many people didn't like the plan, they were even more irritated with a grandstanding mayor (where have we heard that before...) for notifying them of the changes via newspaper and tv headlines without first holding a public meeting.

The number of people testifying was so great that the normal committee room was too small, and the hearing was held in the full Council Chambers. The DOT was asking for funding for Phases 1 and 2 of the Mayor's plan, which would standardize the rush hour restrictions along both roads, eliminating parking during rush hour, and re-time signals to give priority to east-west commuters during rush hour. The Committee promised not to move forward with the plan until after an extensive public outreach.

After a presentation by the DOT and Deputy Mayor Jaime de la Vega outlining the plan, Chairwoman Grueul opened the floor for comments. The over thirty commenters then strode to the microphone and proceeded to trash the plan, the mayor and the Council (or Councilman Weiss) in that order.

The best barbs thrown by testifiers were aimed at the Mayor. One resident, responding to de le Vega's rhetorical question, "why are we here today?" answered, "We're here today because we woke up one morning and saw the Mayor and Councilman Weiss smiling in the LA Times. That was our notification!" A member of Councilman Weiss' Pico-Olympic Task Force complained that the committee was hoodwinked. They were promised a full hearing process but were instead were "treated to policy by press conference."


The angriest people were the business owners along Pico Boulevard who see a speedier road with no parking as the death knell for their restaurants, shops and dry cleaners. "We already have a freeway system" one restaurant owner complained, "Stop trying to turn our surface streets into a second one and bankrupt all our businesses at the same time!" The owner of two dry cleaners complained that "70% of my business occurs between 7 and 9 in the morning and 4 and seven at night. If you take away my parking, you'll force me to close both shops."


Some of the other complaints with the plan itself included:


1) Restricting left-hand turns will create more people driving on community streets to avoid having to make three rights to get home


2) Pico and Olympic will become un-passable boundries for those that need to turn left off of them to get home


3)The real problem is the over-development in places like Santa Monica and Wesfield Mall (located conveniently in Councilman Weiss' Fifth District) and nothing is being done about that


4) The plan is just moving the bottleneck and won't impact traffic


5) Seven minutes (the estimated savings for commuters) isn't worth displacing hundreds of businesses


6) What effect will this plan have on ridership for the Expo Line?


Each councilperson reacted to the testimony in their own way.


The usually-affable Councilman Rosendahl sat off the center podium and just listened to the testimony. Rosendahl's district will benefit from the quicker commute and the Councilman will be holding a public hearing on January 9th to elicit more feedback. The meeting was criticised as being held too early by many speakers, but the Councilman did not commit to moving it to February or beyond.


Chairwoman Grueul focused on keeping the meeting moving along and making sure every speaker was heard. Somehow she managed to do this without the aid of a gigantic countdown clock. She also let speakers finish their thoughts if they went over the suggested speaking time of a minute. I hope her courtesy towards her constituents doesn't impede her career.


So the job of soothing people's anger fell to the HOT-Lanes-hating, parcel-tax-promoting, Councilman LaBonge. LaBonge tried joking (How do I get this many people to come to Parks and Arts?), teaching history (We didn't build our freeways correctly because of a strong homeowners group in Cheviot Hills, now we're doing what we can.), and stumping for his parcel tax (Who wants to see more transit?).


What worked best was responding intelligently to people's concerns and working with the one person who didn't testify against the plan (a representative from Metro) to make sure that Metro would work with DOT and the Council to hear people's concerns.


The future of the Mayor's congestion busting plan for the Westside is now in question as the opposition seems deep, angry, and well organized. What isn't in question is that its generally a bad idea to ignore your community groups and committees and talk to the newspapers before your constituents.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hundreds of petitions were delivered to the transportation committee, the MAyor and Jack Weiss. This is the text:

Dear Transportation Committee:
I/We have several concerns relating to the Pico/Olympic plan put forward by Mayor Villaraigosa, Jack Weiss and DOT. My/Our concerns include:

CEQA
I/We believe that a full environmental impact report is necessary before this plan moves forward. The plan will impact many aspects of the environment.

Business Impacts
Businesses along Olympic and Pico will be facing an uncertain future as parking is restricted and traffic patterns shift. Customers will have a difficult time reaching their favorite establishments. The impact on small businesses has not been studied in any meaningful way. It is unfair that businesses that have been in existence for years suddenly find that their customers can no longer reach them. This occurred on Santa Monica Boulevard during construction and several businesses were forced to close.

The impact will not be limited to those businesses on Pico and Olympic. The impact on north/south streets that will see increased use has not been studied. Commercial corridors such as Westwood Boulevard will see increased delays as north/south routes are disfavored and thus become less attractive to customers.

School Impacts
Several schools depend on street parking for safe drop-offs for their students. The elimination of parking during drop-off and pick-up times will force parents to illegally park in restricted neighborhood areas OR have their children walk across Pico or Olympic – which would be virtual freeways. In addition, there has been no study of the impact on Safe Routes to School for impacted schools.

Regional Traffic Impacts
While commuters passing through impacted areas MAY see a benefit while travelling east/west, an unknown number of drivers will see delays while travelling north/south. The impact on local freeways is unknown as is the impact on possible light rail and the ability of potential commuters to reach that light rail.

Common Routes Unaddressed
Simple questions such as how drivers are expected to get from Century City to the 10 or 405 freeways have not been answered.

Community Access/Local Trip Lengths
Local travel times and trip lengths will likely increase as no leg will be shorter than it currently is, but everyone will have to increase the distance driven to do the return leg via the new required route. Drivers will have to pass through congested north/south streets to make return trips.

Anyone who wants to shop or do business at a location on Pico or Olympic will be forced to travel north or south on one leg of their trip since they won't be able to return along the road they came on, thus substantially increasing traffic between Pico and Olympic on streets that are already very crowded at rush hour.

With left turns eliminated onto several residential streets, the impact on local resident’s ability to get home, to school or to local businesses has not been studied and will be impacted.

The plan may further erode the local character of the neighborhoods as some streets will turned into thoroughfares or freeways, and residents will be discouraged from visiting their local stores and businesses. In addition, the reduced ability to reach one’s home as a result of removed left turn capability may impact property values and add to congestion on once-quiet residential streets.

First Responder Impacts
A dramatic change in West L.A. traffic patterns will have an unknown impact on first-responder response times. Crowded north/south streets that are given a lower priority may impact fire and police response.

Impacts On Past Development Agreements/ATCS
Several communities have existing development agreements which may be violated by the plan’s impacts. In addition, the installation of ATCS was a condition of approval for several projects. The impact of the removal of ATCS from intersections along Pico and Olympic must be analyzed. The analysis must include not only impacts at those intersections, but impacts along the north/south routes and parallel east/west routes that use ATCS.

LADOT had previously granted capacity increases of 4% for ATSAC use and an additional 3% for ATCS use. There is no data to allow for those capacity increases to be continued, especially as north/south routes will necessarily be LESS efficient of the east/west routes are forced into being MORE efficient.

Interactions with Existing EIRs
All EIRs in the “pipeline” must be revisited to reflect the changed traffic patterns and the loss of the ATCS capacity increase percentage. Developers must also not be allowed to take credit for theoretical capacity increases that MAY be generated by the plan. Note that the plan states in several places that the benefits and possible unexpected consequences are unknown.

Conflict with Representations Made to the Community
On June 13, 2007, Jack Weiss held a “task force” meeting on the Pico/Olympic concept. The constituents present were promised further input before the plan would move forward. A few quotes from Councilman Weiss

“ All I’ve heard tonight… are really good questions and we just don’t have answers to those questions. Is this thing fully baked? No way. Its not even close. So what DOT needs to do is to analyze the questions that have been provided and to do a good job of it.”

“ The report that you (DOT) will be providing will be more of a conversation starter than a conversation ender. Just answering the question “How will I get home” Answer: “Unknown” says that there is an awfully long way to go. There is an awful lot more to be written than has been the case.”

“This proposal can’t move until those questions are actually answered. I’m going to work with all of you to figure out what would be the most productive way to have the next meeting. We want to wait for a written work product from DOT…”

When asked about representative democracy… “I think its proper and appropriate to give DOT a chance to put it on paper. And then let’s get responses[from the community] on paper. That’s the most appropriate way to do it.”

This plan should not move forward until it is “fully baked” as Councilman Weiss put it on June 13th of this year. I/We strongly urge you to table this plan until a full environmental review which includes FULL community outreach can be conducted.

Traffic is one of the largest problems facing our area and our City. However, bypassing required and sensible study before subjecting communities to a half-baked plan is not appropriate.

Neel said...

We should be supporting a bus-only lane initiative, the focus on public transportation, not private transportation expressway's on major thoroughfares with businesses. Let's stop making local streets into mini-highways.

Dan W. said...

Without bus only lanes, this plan loses much of its luster.

However, I am quite frankly sick and tired of what NIMBYs are doing to this city. It is because of NIMBYs that the Wilshire Blvd. subway was delayed for 20 years. It is because of NIMBYs that the Orange Line started as a busway. It is because of NIMBYs that the Expo Line is in trouble.

I for one hope the MTA does something with Pico and Olympic including bus only lanes and rams it down the throats of the NIMBYs as a sign we won't let NIMBYs sabotage our needed transportation improvements anymore.

If someone lives between the 10 Freeway and the Hollywood Hills, they do not live in the suburbs and are not entitled to a low-density suburban lifestyle just because they want one. If someone wants a suburban lifestyle, then move to Whittier, Torrance or Simi Valley. We need one-way streets, bus-only lanes and a massive expansion of our rail network and we need it promptly.

The status of these neighborhoods back in Sam Yorty's Los Angeles is irrelevant to our discussion today.

This hasn't been a "horizontal" city for years and its time to finally stand up to these obstructionists who need a time machine more than anything else.

DAYMEN said...

Dan,

I see your point about the effect NIMBYism has on the way the city grows and how counterproductive it is.

However, when a situation is handled as ham-handidly as Hizzoner handled this one, its not surprising that people are scared and pissed off. When the people that helped draft the plan are blasting away at a hearing, you know that the rollout strategy has been screwed up.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with Dan W.
Very well said, Dan!
I hate NIMBY'ism as well.
Let's hope Common Sense will prevail!

Dan W. said...

Daymen,

I absolutely see your point at how badly this was rolled out.

There is probably a way to mitigate some of this without throwing the whole idea away, which they shouldn't.

However, people still living in 1977, still pining for how great their neighborhoods "used to be" several decades ago, or who suffer from the delusion that their low-density, car-based lifestyle is sustainable in every neighborhood in Los Angeles at the same quality, are utterly delusional and they need to be stood up to firmly.

Los Angeles is NOT a suburb, especially if you live between the Hollywood Hills and the 10 Freeway. If someone wants a low-density, car-friendly, suburban lifestyle, that is great. That person should MOVE to the suburbs to do it.

NIMBYs must no longer be able to sabotage the common good for the rest of the city anymore.

On the other hand, single-occupancy motorists with a sense of entitlement must also be told the car-based way of life they've grown accustomed to is not sustainable either economically or environmentally, and will only continue to decline in quality over the next few decades, and there is nothing Caltrans or the MTA can do to change that basic fact, but slow the rate of decline. Pico and Olympic as one-way or predominantly-one-way streets will not be as fast as a clear freeway, nor should they be.

Both motorists and the residents who want development stopped in order to preserve the past are also delusional. 4 million people additional are coming to Los Angeles here over the next few decades, and they are going vertically on top of where existing people are now for the limits of sprawl have been reached.

Los Angeles is changing to become like every other metropolitan city in the world -- vertical and dense, and requires a massive investment in its public transit infrastructure.

Many people holding on to the past and to their mythological car-based, suburban-in-the-city, lifestyles will resent it, even try to fight it, but the future is coming. The only question is whether we plan for it and give adequate alternatives for those who are willing to get out of their cars so that L.A. can remain economically and environmentally sustainable.

Los Angeles should be looking at other one-way street "pairs". Melrose and Beverly perhaps? Fairfax and LaBrea? These specific pairings are not recommendations, but just an acknowledgment that the Los Angeles of the future is going to look very different than the Los Angeles we've seen on television and in the movies for the last 50 years.